MLB Picks: Using Sabermetrics to Predict Team Wins: 2015 NL Central Edition

SBR Staff

Thursday, March 19, 2015 7:06 PM GMT

We turn to sabermetrics to help us project the Season Win Totals for the 5 NL Central teams.

In this series of articles we are using one of the most common metrics discussed in sabermetrics, WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. This metric takes into account many separate statistics and combines them into a single value indicating how much more valuable, or not, a player is compared to the league average. It’s such a popular metric that there are many versions of calculating and projecting it, such as fWAR (i.e. Fangraphs WAR) and Steamer. These individual projections can be combined to create a WAR value for an entire MLB roster, and therefore a likely win-loss record for the upcoming MLB season. Let’s take a look at the season record projections for the NL Central using fWAR and Steamer and see if we can’t uncover some betting value when compared to the season O/U futures and the overall NL Central division race.

 

Steamer WAR Projections*

TEAM

Off. WAR

Pitching
WAR

Total

Projected Wins

   O/U
   (Bovada)

Diff.

STL

25

13.6

38.6

89.44

   88.5

0.94

PIT

22.7

11.3

34

84.98

   84.5

0.48

CHC

19.6

14

33.6

84.59

   82.5

2.09

MIL

18.8

10.6

29.4

80.52

   78.5

2.02

CIN

16.9

10.8

27.7

78.87

   77.5

1.37

*Steamer team win total calculation is based off of the statistical work of sabermetrics expert, Glenn DuPaul.

fWAR Projections (Courtesy of Fangraphs.com)

 

 

Team

Wins

fWAR

O/U (Bovada)

Diff.

Odds to Win Division

STL

87

41.6

88.5

-1.5

+125

PIT

85

35.2

84.5

0.5

+275

CHC

84

34.1

82.5

1.5

+250

MIL

79

31.7

78.5

0.5

+1200

CIN

77

28.4

77.5

-0.5

+1200

               

 

I used two WAR projection systems to see if they would agree and give us an edge that we could use to make our O/U MLB Picks for the NL Central. Let’s break down each team’s win projections:

 

St. Louis Cardinals: Most times unexpected roster changes happen because of injury, but in rare occasions they happen because of tragedy. Just after playing in Game 5 of the NLCS, a game I attended, Oscar Taveras was killed in an auto accident in the Dominican Republic. Slated to be the starting RF in 2015 and beyond, the Cardinals needed to do something to fill the hole in the outfield and hearts of fans alike. And do something they did, with a blockbuster trade that brought Jason Heyward from Atlanta. According to Fangraphs, Cardinals right fielders attributed -1.0 fWAR in 2014. Compare that to Heyward’s projection of 4.9 WAR in 2015 and you have an almost six win swing. It is possibly the biggest upgrade this season of any position made by any team based on WAR. Although by WAR projections it appears as if their bullpen won’t be dominant, their lineup will be. With the talent here one should not overthink the division odds at +125 as they have the best roster and the best chance of staying on top. The O/U is set optimistically at 88.5 for the Cards, which looks to be just right for the projected wins based on WAR. I’d stay away from the O/U and take the Cards to win the division again at +125.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pittsburgh has made the playoffs in the last two seasons. Believe it or not, that last sentence is correct. Catcher Russell Martin departs on offense and leaves a vacuum in clubhouse leadership. However, Andrew McCutchen is still a monstrous offensive threat at the peak of his game - with a projected 6.1 WAR. Starling Marte (3.1 WAR) and Josh Harrison (2.9 WAR) are also projected to be solid contributors on offense. However, the Pirates’ starting pitching is projected to be below average, with opening day starter Francisco Liriano slated for some regression at 1.9 WAR, which would be good for a 3rd or 4th spot in most contender’s rotations. The pitching talent just isn’t there to hang with St. Louis for the division crown, but the Pirates are still projected to be at a respectable 85 wins in 2015. Given that the O/U is set at 84.5 at Bovada, the margin of error is slim and it would appear that the Pirates are accurately valued for 2015.

 

Chicago Cubs: Don’t look now but the Cubs are putting in a video scoreboard! The last team to update their scoreboard was the Mariners last year, which was good for a 16 win improvement over 2013. Unfortunately, neither Steamers nor Fangraphs have a WAR value projected for “scoreboard” so we will just have to look at the roster. Ok, enough of the roster, the Cubs have a shiny new manager in Joe Madden! What is apparent in looking at the player projections is after the offseason acquisition of Jon Lester, the roster is all sizzle but no substance. Especially in the bullpen where weaknesses will be punished more than most at Wrigley. The offense is slightly promising with clubhouse and batting leader Anthony Rizzo projected for 4.7 WAR. Kris Bryant is also expected to be the second highest contributor on offense with 3 WAR, although Theo Epstein has stated that Bryant will start in AAA because of his poor defense. With an optimistic 10 game improvement over last year baked into the O/U odds of 82.5 set by most online sportsbooks, and projections very close at 84 and 84.5 games, respectively, this is a tough call. The only value I see here is to stay away from the division odds currently listed at +250.

 

Milwaukee Brewers: Milwaukee started hot last year and was 19 games above .500 last June before fading down the stretch and eventually succumbing to the Cardinals and Pirates. Mike Fiers broke out during the season and is projected to lead the pitching staff with 2.6 WAR this year, but has just 71 2014 season innings to build on. It does look odd when your 4th starter is projected to lead your team in pitching WAR. Ryan Braun is also projected for a respectable 2.5 WAR, but that really could be presented by half a season of great performances and the rest slowed down by injury. He will need to over perform for the Brewers to have any chance at all in the division race. When looking at the projected WAR value of the roster, the Brewers are solidly in fourth place in the NL Central. With St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh all projected for more than 80 wins in this competitive division, it is hard to believe that the Brewers can win more than the 78.5 listed as the O/U in the MLB Odds. I have a slight lean to the under with the Brewers here.

 

Cincinnatti Reds: The Reds are in the same position as the Brewers above, with a roster that projects them to be in no better than 4th place in the NL Central. “Upgrades” have really revolved around getting people back healthy. To put some perspective into their pitching situation, as of this date, Jason Marquis is slated to be their 5th starter. Marquis hasn’t been good since 2009 and is not even included in the Steamer projections (he is projected for -0.6 WAR on Fangraphs, however). The Brewers biggest free agent offensive addition, Marlon Byrd, is projected for 0.3 WAR. Although they have some good pieces, such as catcher Devin Mesoraco coming off of an all-star season and projected for 3 WAR, they just don’t have the depth to compete over an entire season. For instance, on offense, the Reds only have 9 players with a positive projected WAR value, period. I’m tempted to agree with the Fangraphs projection here and lean on the Under of 77.5 wins.